China's top Olympic delegate slammed media Sunday for airing "groundless" doping speculation about teenage swimmer Ye Shiwen, after a controversy that cast a shadow over her record-breaking feats.
Chef de mission Liu Peng said doping innuendo had dragged the reputation of Ye, 16, through the mud after she won both the 400m and 200m individual medleys in one of the Games' break-out performances.
"There are individuals or media that are accusing unfoundedly our Chinese athletes. This is really unfair -- it's groundless," Liu said. "These people should recognise reality and respect sportspersons' dignity and reputation."
Media chatter started after Ye's world-record 400m medley win, including a final 50m which was faster than US winner Ryan Lochte in the men's race. American coach John Leonard then called the swim "impossible".
But Liu said China had made a "very, very strict effort" after several major scandals in the 1990s, observed World Anti-Doping Authority rules and had passed its own law against drugs in sport.
"Prejudice and guessing and rumours blamed our athletes. The media, they should blame themselves because they should be objective and recognise the facts, and respect the reputation of athletes," he said.
The doping suggestions raised hackles in China, where the People's Daily, a government mouthpiece, accused Western media of "arrogance and prejudice against Chinese athletes".
Ye, when tackled on the subject, has flatly denied doping. And her team-mate Sun Yang -- who won the men's 400m freestyle, and claimed the 1500m in world-record time -- angrily leapt to her defence.
"People think China has so many gold medals because of doping and other substances, but I can tell you it is because of hard work," he said.
"It is all down to training and hard work that we have results. Chinese are not weaker than those in other countries."
Lochte called Ye's 400m swim "pretty impressive", while Australia's Stephanie Rice, the 2008 champion, said it was "insane". America's Michael Phelps, who has 22 Olympics medals, said nobody should jump to conclusions.
"It's kind of sad that people have a great swim and that's the first thing they say," Phelps told CNN. "People who work hard -- it shows. There are people who just jump to that conclusion sometimes, and it's not right."
The row intruded on China's celebrations at their best ever swimming performance, with five gold medals. Overall, China finished second behind America on the medals table, failing to repeat after they were top in 2008.
China's Games were also hit when their top seeds Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were among eight players disqualified from the women's doubles badminton for trying to lose group matches, in hope of securing easier quarter-finals.
But Liu said China had shown its commitment to the "Olympic spirit" by backing their expulsion. Their head badminton coach, Li Yongbo, publicly apologised for the players' tactics.
"This delegation at the very first minute showed our principles and we also criticised this misbehaviour," said Liu. "We also told all the athletes to take this as a warning."
Despite a record of about 6,000 drugs tests at the London Games, just a handful of athletes have failed.
Liu added that China's competitors had shown "athletes' spirit and noble ethics" in gathering their 38 gold medals heading into the final day.
"They observed the rules, respected the spectators and respected the referees," said Liu. "They are really from a civilised country with politeness and enthusiasm."